Title Contenders or Being Left Behind?
Anyone looking at England’s pool games in the Rugby World Cup so far could be fooled into thinking that they’re sitting comfortably in contention for the cup, with commanding two-try leads over their opponents.
However, watching either of the first two games reveals how the scorelines belie the events and flow of each contest.
In the Argentina game, England's impotent ground game combined with an early red card meant the squad had to adapt to the unfavourable circumstances. Whilst one might applaud their ability to adopt a 90s-esque drop goal and penalty kick offence, it is all too clear that much of their win came from Argentina's inability to capitalise.
In matches between tier-one nations this year, Argentina are tied only with England themselves for most handling errors made with 14. England, kicking out of their hands twice as many times as their opponents, seemed all too keen to allow the Pumas to run through phases and expose their 14-man defence. Argentina, unfortunately, did not make use of these chances, despite beating England in the turnover game.
England were able to reach the highest number of points for any world cup team in history from kicking alone, which certainly looks impressive, but with France, Ireland, and South Africa pulling off historic and impressive wins throughout their pool games, kicking prowess will not be enough to overcome such complete and clinical opposition.
The Japan game, too, provided cause for concern, as frustrated England supporters booed the players from the stands, watching them kick away possession for much of the first half, lacking that clinical finishing touch as they have all year.
Indeed, the game was only blown open by a header from Joe Marler that was taken in by Lawes for a try, and this with 20 minutes left to play. Marler would later refer to it as "winning ugly", claiming that it was done in 2003 by England and it could be pulled off again.
However the question isn't whether England can win ugly, but whether they are instead winning badly.
Their most recent pool match saw Borthwick start his most interesting lineup yet, and with a back line brimming with playmakers, the Chilean players were not prepared for the onslaught of creativity brought by the English squad. This could certainly not be called winning badly.
With Elliot Daly at outside centre, Marcus Smith at full back, and Henry Arundell free on the wing, the team was set up to run through gaps and find space out wide. They wasted no time doing exactly that, with Smith and Arundell combining for 7 tries, and the latter tying the English record for tries in a Rugby world cup match.
However, for as brilliant as the atmosphere among England supporters was after a 71-0 thrashing of Chile, I may have the difficult task of throwing sand on the fire.
This lineup, whilst having performed incredibly, will most likely not be reproduced in later World cup matches.
This is a sad result of a number of factors, not least owing to a lackluster player development scheme in the English camp, which has meant that four of the starting tight five in the game against Chile had eight caps or less. Eddie Jones was allowed by the RFU to put player development in England on hold for far too long.
Borthwick will have the difficult decision for the rest of the tournament, either to start these young players who excelled in the Chile game, or (as is most likely) bench them in favour of the more experienced players in the squad.
This is especially unfortunate when you consider that star man Henry Arundell will most likely encounter difficulty playing for England in the future, after the London Irish went into administration and he was forced to join French club Racing 92, making him ineligible for England selection.
He is expected to be given dispensation to play in the 2024 Six Nations tournament, but combining this with the general lack of development given to his slightly older teammates like Theo Dan and Bevan Rodd, the future for England Rugby is called into question.
In the end, after a mixed bag of pool games so far for England in this Rugby World cup, an inconsistent offence and sometimes unpopular game strategy leaves them with much to work on if they wish to survive contests against teams like France and Ireland.